Education edge

From the October 2023 print edition

There are many ways to continue to grow within supply chain through continuing education. Education avenues include in-person instruction or online via a college, an digital platform, a degree program, or a webinar on a topic that interests you. You need to be continuously learning and keep up with technology, so you don’t get left behind.

You also need to prioritize your continuing education, just like any other task, deadline, or to-do list. If you don’t make the time or schedule it, then you will just get busy doing all the other things in your day, week or month, and you will fall behind all your colleagues who do prioritize it.

Supply chain has moved from being a relatively unknown business process to an everyday conversation. Supply chain has been in the news daily, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve heard discussions of items like N95 masks, personal protective equipment, vaccines, toilet paper, maintenance repair operations (MRO), to name a few. During the pandemic, these were all top of mind for consumers and professionals in supply chain.

Jeff van Geel is professor, supply chain, at Lawrence Kinlin School of Business, Fanshawe College, London Campus.

More recently, forest fires, the Vancouver Port strike and the ongoing war in Ukraine have impacted our supply chains. So, while most people now know some aspects of what we do daily in supply chain, we also must keep up with our own continuing education and learning experiences.

Opportunities abound
I currently teach many aspects of supply chain to my students at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. I tell them that if you don’t continue to grow and subscribe to a regime of lifelong learning, you will unfortunately be left behind.

I think about 20 years ago when the internet and mobile phones were just getting started on a larger scale. I remembered everyone’s phone number by memory. Now, I barely remember my own mobile number. Keeping up with new trends and finding creative and different ways of doing things in our supply chains is an important part of our career. But so is keeping up with ever changing technology.
Through our mobile devices, we now have access to myriad apps. Often, these apps are free to download, and can help us learn, grow, and stay connected. LinkedIn Learning, Google, and YouTube channels offer such opportunities. Meanwhile, online or part-time, onsite learning can help us remain in touch with how quickly technology and processes can change.

One app that has helped my students practice their public speaking is ORAI. ORAI uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze your speaking and give you feedback based on pace, energy, and conciseness. It then gives you an overall score and makes you self-aware of areas you might need to improve upon. While AI has been around for decades, it has recently increased in scope of application and how it is used, including higher education, agriculture, business, decision making and analytics.

Adoption of these new technologies depends on you and your organization’s ability to adapt to change. Change is constant, but the pace of change has become much faster. How many times have you found yourself reading an email or notes only to find the process has changed, or the person has changed? Perhaps you need to take a compliance course to be able to access the system?

Another reason to invest your time in continuing education is that we have become more global. You need to stay on top of international trade regulations and tariffs, sanctions, and logistics.

For sustainability reasons, we want to source goods and services locally. But we are often forced to buy internationally, either on price or sole sourced. Sustainability and going green has been talked about for years, but the discussion has shifted to the circular economy. How can we create processes that continuously reuse our limited natural resources as efficiently as possible?

Continuing education allows you to learn about these new ways of conducting business while fostering relationships. Let’s face it, we only have one planet and things have changed in an unimaginable way in the last century. My great-grandfather was born in 1899, in a time with no automobiles, no phones, no TV, and no airplanes. I wonder what he would think of today’s society and all the things we now take for granted, the technology we know how to use, and our nearly unlimited access to information?

Which certification?
Many people ask me about which supply chain certification to get. The answer depends on many things. Many are costly, while many require
a certain number of years of experience working in the field in which you want to be certified. Some require in-residence instruction and most require some sort of proficiency test or exam.

In my opinion, it depends on the certification that your employer wants and is willing to pay for and support you in. Often, you will have to do this on unpaid time. But any continuing education requires some effort on your part, which is an investment in your future. If you are fortunate enough to work for an employer that is willing to pay or subsidize some of the costs of continuing education, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that opportunity? That extra education or experience might very well lead to a promotion or your next opportunity.

Continuing education doesn’t always have to be a structured course. It could also be sitting for an hour with someone in a different department to find out what they do, what challenges they face, or what information they have access to that might help you in your planning and decision making.

During the pandemic, I attended many webinars since we could not be together in person. Yes, I missed the people and networking. But I was able to attend many sessions for free and made some great contacts. Many supply chain professional associations offer events, networking opportunities, and job fairs. All these contribute to your personal and professional development and lifelong learning.

Continuing education in supply chain management is essential for staying competitive in an ever-changing business landscape. It empowers professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to drive innovation, optimize processes, mitigate risks, and contribute to the overall success of their organizations.
You should never stop learning. Maybe I will even see you in class at Fanshawe College.